Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment

Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAn insecure America and an assertive China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA —US now leads world in known coronavirus cases | Unemployment claims soar by over 3 million | House to vote on stimulus Friday | Ventilator shortage sets off scramble MORE (D-Calif.) sought Wednesday to prevent the trickle of Democratic impeachment supporters from becoming a wave. 

During an emergency closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, Pelosi didn't broach the topic directly and instead gave the floor to a handful of committee chairs who back her methodical approach. 

“My message was: stay the course we're on,” Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said after the meeting.

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Other lawmakers suggested the caucus remained largely behind Pelosi’s approach, despite the statements in recent days from members backing the beginning of an impeachment inquiry.

“It's clear what her view is, and at the moment I would say the caucus is willing to be led on that issue,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOPM chief abruptly resigns The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the APTA - Biden looks for Super Tuesday surge; coronavirus fears heighten 'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base MORE (D-Va.) said of Pelosi. 

Some sharp Trump critics — like Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellHispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Juan Williams: Will the GOP ever curb Trump? MORE (D-N.J.), who's been pushing to get the president's tax returns — are on board Pelosi’s approach.

Pascrell spoke out during the closed-door session to note that recent court rulings have sided with the Democrats' requests for information, and more are likely to follow with similar verdicts. 

“At this particular point I think the Speaker is absolutely correct,” Pascrell said. “Richie Neal and his methodical approach I think is absolutely correct,” he added, referring to the Ways and Means Committee chairman. 

Outside the meeting, Pelosi accused President TrumpDonald John TrumpDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump 'racist cowboy' House leaders hope to vote Friday on coronavirus stimulus MORE of being involved in a cover-up, a tough rhetorical line that sends a signal to lawmakers that she takes White House stonewalling of congressional investigations seriously.

“We do believe that it is important to follow the facts, we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi told reporters.

The Speaker then set out for a meeting with Trump and other congressional leaders on infrastructure. The meeting was abruptly ended by Trump, who expressed anger that Democrats were investigating him, and anger specifically at Pelosi over the cover-up remark.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump said in comments from the White House Rose Garden after the abbreviated meeting. He also said he would not work with Democrats on policy until they ended their investigations.

Pelosi’s remarks could also give ammunition to those arguing that it’s time for an impeachment inquiry. 

“There's ample evidence that we should be having this debate in Congress and before the American people,” said Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonPressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Hoyer says House expects to pass coronavirus bill on Friday MORE (D-Mass.). “His campaign chairman is in prison; don't tell me there's not enough to debate here.”

Pressure on Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings intensified after former White House counsel Don McGahn disregarded a subpoena and refused to appear before Congress on Tuesday, and after GOP Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Amash calls stimulus package 'a raw deal' for 'those who need the most help' MORE (Mich.) came out in favor of impeachment.

Connolly acknowledged “some discussion” on the recent push to launch an impeachment inquiry into the president. “But that's not where we are this morning,” he added.

The White House stonewalling has sparked a new round of Democratic defectors from Pelosi's no-impeachment position. Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroLatinos projected to bear economic brunt of coronavirus Burr requests ethics investigation into stock sale, denies wrongdoing Castro forms PAC, boosts five House candidates MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is one of them. He described a cordial debate in Wednesday's meeting. 

“Some people have said that they're ready to start an impeachment inquiry — not an impeachment vote, but an impeachment inquiry — and others said they're not quite there yet,” Castro said. “And it was a collegial debate. ... Nobody was screaming at each other.”

Rep. Juan VargasJuan C. VargasActivists, analysts demand Congress consider immigrants in coronavirus package Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence taps health official to aid coronavirus response MORE (D-Calif.) is also urging impeachment hearings to begin immediately, arguing it's the surest — and quickest — way for the committees to obtain the information Trump is withholding. 

“We should start the impeachment process. I think it gets us to a place where we can get this information, and then frankly be able to make a determination,” he said.

“By the time the courts decide, I think I'll have grandchildren,” he continued, “and my daughters aren't married."

The other committee heads who spoke during the meeting were Neal and Reps. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (D-N.Y.), of the House Judiciary panel; Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersLawmakers shame ex-Wells Fargo directors for failing to reboot bank The Hill's Morning Report - Biden delivers another devastating blow to Sanders On The Money: Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal under coronavirus threat | Trump voices support for paid sick leave | Wells Fargo chief pledges fresh start for scandal-ridden bank MORE (D-Calif.), of the House Financial Services Committee; and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security Connecticut man accused of threatening to kill Schiff The Hill's Morning Report - Biden commits to female VP; CDC says no events of 50+ people for 8 weeks MORE (D-Calif.), of the Intelligence Committee. 

Some Democrats, while not yet advocating for impeachment, say they are moving closer.

“Inch by inch, yard by yard ... with every new point of resistance ... people are saying, 'Hey, we can't just sit here and do nothing,’ ” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “I'm not there, but I'm a lot closer than I was.”